Just want to share some of the latest links to Nature reads for the Gaia challenge. Margaret @ From Pyrenees to Pennines reviewed The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole a fascinating look at temperate rainforests in the UK. Hard to believe that temperate rainforests now only cover 1% of the earth’s surface. They are such beautiful spaces, the stuff of Tolkien dreams, cool, green, magical havens. Check out Margaret’s post. Karen at Living on the Downs posted on Greta Thunberg’s I know this to be true, what a remarkable young woman Greta is. Karen also read and posted on the John Wyndham sci-fi classic Day of the Triffids and with its themes of biological engineering making it an appropriate read for the challenge. Brizzy May @ Books and Bruschetta posted on the memoir of an urban ecologist; Curlews on Vulture Street. I was particularly intrigued by this one as it is by a professor of ecology at Griffith in Brisbane. Brisbane has some pretty wonderful natural habitat despite being a capital city wildlife manage to survive, and in the case of bush turkeys thrive apparently. Over at the Bookstop the Curly Geek read and reviewed The Island of Missing Trees the novel by Elif Shafak, a novel I also very much enjoyed last year.

My latest nature read was Thin Places by Kerri ni Dochartaigh, an eerie mix of nature and trauma memoir, hard to categorise but filled with lyrical writing evoking a pagan connection to place, hence the title, at thin places you see the boundaries between worlds disappear. The memoir details growing up in Derry at the height of “the troubles”, it is dripping in trauma and a kind of pagan mysticism. Born in the eighties to a protestant father and a catholic mother in Derry, that most divided of cities, boundaries and borders are a recurring motif and Brexit is the spark for her reflection on place. She details a life of one trauma after another, fire bombings, family separations, suicide and murder. Cancer adds to her burden and eventually, alcohol becomes her means of numbing the pain of a life of constant distress and disconnection. Nature and a kind of associated mysticism becomes the balm for all the pain that Kerri bears, which creates connections, consolations and meanings out of what would otherwise be a bleak memoir of violence and poverty.

I found the reflections on intergenerational trauma, and what is effectively British colonialism intriguing, much of what Dochartaigh writes about the experience of the Irish sounds very like the experience of our First Nation Australians. They also have a deep cultural connection to the land and have certainly been subject to intergenerational trauma and ongoing violence. The pagan thinking resonated, and I found Kerri’s account of living through “the troubles”, fascinating if bleak. As a first book this is an intriguing addition to the nature memoir genre, lyrical but perhaps a little meandering. I think it best to let the book speak for itself:

In Celtic lands it is not unusual to use the landscape as a mnemonic map. Geographical features hold a particular importance for our history, beliefs and culture – places make up the lines of our being. There is an understanding that we are part of and not separate from the land we inhabit. Celtic legends place the natural world at the very heart of the story, maybe even inside its bones. In such stories things in the natural world can possess a spirit and presence of their own: mountains, rocks, trees, rivers – all things of the land and the sea – sing their own lament. Locations can be associated with a particular warrior, hero or deity. Places are tied to stories by threads that uncoil themselves back beyond known history, passed on through oral tradition, only some of which have been written down.

Amongst these geographical features, whether manmade – such as ancient mounds and standing stones – or naturally created features, it is not unusual for some to be associated with the worship of pre-Christian deities. The aos si (or aes sidhe) is an Irish term for a race that is other than human, that exists in Irish, Scottish and Manx mythology, inhabiting an invisible world that sits in a kind of mirroring with our own. They belong to the Otherworld,Aos Si – a world reached through mists, hills lakes, ponds, springs, loughs, wetland areas, caves, ancient burial sites, cairns and mounds. The Island from which I come had no choice, really than to find a name for these dancing, beating healing places where the veil between so very many things is thin. where it has been known to lift right before our humble, grateful eyes.

The folklore of almost every culture holds room for these liminal spaces – those in-between places – those unnamable places, not to be found on any map. Are these thin places spaces where we can more easily hear the land, the earth, talking to us? Or are they places in which we are able to feel more freely our own inner selves? Do places such as these therefore hold power?

We have built up a narrative over many years – decades, centuries? – decades, centuries? – of ‘nature’ as ‘other’. There is so much separation in the language we use with each other; we seek to divide humanity from its own self again, and again, and this has natur­ally bled into how we view the land and water that we share with one another – and with other species. What do we mean when we talk about ‘nature’? About ‘place’? I want to know what it all means. I need to try to understand. When we are in a place where the manmade constructs of the world seem as though they have crumbled, where time feels like it no longer exists, that feeling of separation fades away. We are reminded, in the deepest, rawest parts of our being, that we are nature. It is in and of us. We are not superior or inferior, separate or removed; our breathing, breaking ageing, bleeding, making and dying are the things of this earth. We are made up of the materials we see in the places around us, and we cannot undo the blood and bone that form us.

In thin places people often say they experience being taken ‘out of themselves’, or ‘nearer to god’. The places I return to over and over – both physically, and in my memory – certainly do hold the power to make me feel light and hopeful, as though I am not quite of this world. Of much more power, though, is the way in which these places leave me feeling rooted – as utterly and completely in the landscape as I ever feel, as much a part of it as the bones and excrement that lie beneath my feet, as the salt and silt that course through the water. For me, it is in this that the absolute and unrivalled beauty of thin places lies. (pp52-54)

This was my third read for the Gaia/nature challenge, happy with that, a good start to my reading year. I do need to make time to read. I have taken on some extra activities this year and I am just hoping I have not taken on more than I can reasonably accomplish. I have rashly decided to go back to formal study, not for any great career need, more out of curiosity than anything. Given that I work in a university library it seemed opportune to take advantage of my location and enrol in one of our environmental science courses. Actually really looking forward to getting back into the discipline of formal study but also slightly concerned about adding to my work load and stress levels, hopefully this decision has more positives than negatives.

4 thoughts on “Gaia/ nature reads catch up

  1. I’m looking forward to curling up in a quiet corner to read all the posts you mention – thanks for linking to mine. I’m not sure whether your own choice will make my reading list: I’m not convinced I’m up for bleak at the moment. Good luck with your decision to return to study in what sounds like an already complicated life!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations Sharon on taking the plunge back into study! Looking forward to hearing more about what you are learning. Returning to study is not easy, but I have found it to be worthwhile, despite the expense. All the best!


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